I am the entertainer And I know just where I stand
William Martin Joel, better known as Billy Joel, is an American singer-songwriter, musician, and classical composer. He is the third best-selling solo artist in the United States with thirty-three top forty hits and six Grammy Awards to his name. As his 1973 breakout hit "Piano Man" implies, he is a quite skilled piano player, and many of his most famous songs have strong keyboard elements.His discography has a wide range of styles include schmaltzy soft-rock love songs that perhaps reveal Too Much Information about his relationships (especially that with ex-wife Christie Brinkley), tributes to 1950s artists and stylings, attempts at working class rock comparable to Bruce Springsteen, jazzy ruminations on fame, religion, substance abuse (something he has experience in), or his hometown of New York City, bluesy piano numbers, and pure classical compositions. Said range contributed to the formation of Movin' Out, one of the first and best known examples of the Jukebox Musical. He is also known for voicing Dodger in the Disney animated film Oliver & Company.Joel has mostly retired from pop songwriting and recording, but he still tours occasionally, sometimes with close friendElton John.References to his songs come up in pop culture quite a bit: among them a second season episode of American Idol had the contestants singing songs from his catalog, he's been the musical guest on four episodes of Saturday Night Live, an entire episode of Freaks and Geeks was dedicated to his music (and surprisingly, kept all of it for the DVD), and a classic Sesame Streetskit has him serenading Oscar the Grouch along with Marlee Matlin.Not to be confused with Billie Joe or Billy Idol.
Berserk Button: Infamously, "STOP LIGHTING THE AUDIENCE!" For context, this was during a show that he was playing behind the Iron Curtain in the former Soviet Union. During the show, the Secret Police used the lighting to pick out rowdy audience members, essentially making them afraid to show any hint of having fun. Quoth Billy later of the incident, "I didn't throw a tantrum, I threw a piano."
Big Applesauce: In addition to being from the Bronx, his songs are sprinkled with geography references from New York City and the surrounding Tri-State Area metropolis.
Book Ends: The fade-out of "Where's the Orchestra?", the final song on The Nylon Curtain, contains an instrumental snippet of the main melody of "Allentown", the album's first song.
Similarly, the ending of The Stranger is entitled "Everybody Has A Dream/The Stranger (Reprise)" because that song ends with a repeat of the opening strains of "The Stranger".
Briefer Than They Think: Joel has been in the music business for over 40 years, yet has produced only 12 studio albums as a solo artist.
Completely Missing the Point: "Only The Good Die Young" became controversial after Catholic groups complained about the song's content. Years later, Joel pointed out that the song ends with the guy not getting anywhere with the girl and she kept her chastity.
Concept Album: An Innocent Man consists entirely of pastiches of the music Joel grew up listening to. The most notable singles are the Ben E. King-flavored title track, the Four Seasons-esque "Uptown Girl", the Marley-influenced "Keeping The Faith", the Motown-style "Tell Her About It", and the a cappella doowop "For The Longest Time".
Cowboy Be Bop At His Computer: The Rolling Stone Album Guide write-up on Streetlife Serenade makes you wonder just how closely the author was listening to the album in question. "The Mexican Connection" is cited as an example of a "narrative vignette that strains too hard to be clever"- the song in question is an instrumental which can in no way be considered a narrative vignette. It also cites the "rollicking, jazzy piano" on "Last of the Big Time Spenders"; there is a piano on that song, but the song is a slow ballad with nothing rollicking or jazzy about it. Perhaps the author was thinking of "Root Beer Rag"?
A much more notable example—-through some weird mastering error, his debut, Cold Spring Harbor, was accidentally sped up,, and backing vocals and instruments were removed. An urban legend has it that upon hearing it, Joel ripped it off the turn table, ran out of the house and threw it into the street.
Creator Backlash: Although it's his last U.S. #1 hit to date, Joel isn't wild about "We Didn't Start the Fire"; after stumbling over its lyrics during a live show in Toronto, he told the audience, "All you gotta do is fuck up one word in that song and it's a train wreck", then dismissed it as having "one of the worst melodies I ever wrote".
Creator Recovery: The very upbeat and poppy An Innocent Man, a tribute to Joel's musical influences from The Sixties, followed the cynical, socio-politically charged The Nylon Curtain. While TNC was recorded during Billy's divorce from his first wife, AIM was a product of then-single Billy enjoying life as a bachelor and dating a number of supermodels, most notably his future second wife Christie Brinkley.
Darker and Edgier: Both Glass Houses and especially The Nylon Curtain are this compared to Joel's other albums.
A Date with Rosie Palms: One popular interpretation of "Captain Jack," though it's explicitly about being The Stoner. Being bored and masturbating is mentioned in the song, though.
"Sometimes a Fantasy", however, is not only a song about phone sex, but Joel even makes Immodest Orgasms. (The music video is squickier.)
Dead Air: Billy Joel invoked a live-performance version of this trope during the 1994 Grammy Award Show. The director of the show cut short Frank Sinatra's acceptance speech for receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award, and this pissed Joel off to the point that he stopped his performance of "The River of Dreams" in the middle. He sat there, grinning at the audience, while pretending to check his watch, and quipped, "Valuable advertising time is passing by." After wasting around 30 seconds, he resumed playing the song.
In concert, he still tends to extend the middle of the song (which had a natural pause in the first place) as a reminder of the stunt.
That side of him comes out in recent live performances, and in spades during his songwriting seminars, if the Q+A videos posted on his website are any indication. Also comes with a fair amount of Self-Deprecation.
Do Not Call Me Paul: Billy is not fond of being called "William,"note Even though the Ed Sullivan character in the video for "Tell Her About It" does that after his performance and actually prefers "Bill" to "Billy".
Documentary: Last Play at Shea, which used his July 16th and 18th, 2008 concerts at the New York Mets' Shea Stadium, the last ones ever performed there before the building was demolished, as a launchpad for covering his career, the history of American suburbia on Long Island and of the Mets.
Early Installment Weirdness: His short-lived heavy metal band Attila and their one self-titled album from 1970. Often listed as one of the worst LP's of all time and disowned by Joel.
Echoing Acoustics: "Miami 2017 (Seen the Light Go Out on Broadway)" has a weird reverb effect added to it.
As he mentions in his live album Songs in the Attic, the song "demands the gothic reverberation of a vast railroad terminus, such as Madison Square Garden." Apparently this is what they were aiming for on the original, and landed in the aural Uncanny Valley instead.
Epic Rocking: "Goodnight Saigon" (7:04), "Captain Jack" (7:15), and "Scenes from an Italian Restaurant" (7:37), which feature an opening of helicopters, a building crescendo, and an interlude across three distinct sections, respectively.
The "Prelude" section of "Angry Young Man" is about two minutes going back and forth between five different tempos, including some of the fastest piano-playing you've ever heard.
Executive Meddling: Referenced in several songs. The lyrics from "The Entertainer", for example, refers to executive meddling which required him to reduce the length of "Piano Man":
It took me years to write it They were the best years of my life. It was a beautiful song but it ran too long, If you're gonna have a hit then you gotta make it fit So they cut it down to 3.05
Heavy Meta: "It's Still Rock and Roll To Me", "The Entertainer"
Genre Buster: If you had to classify it, you'd probably call it "piano-based rock and roll," but Joel's music has an extremely wide range of styles.
Genre Roulette: He's gone from pop to Southwestern funk to soul to Aaron Copland-like ballads to a classical music album. He even emulated The Beatles in the B side of the Nylon Curtain album. He also stated that "We Didn't Start the Fire" was going to be a rap song, but thought better against it.
Glass-Shattering Sound: He hit a lot of very high notes on An Innocent Man, recorded when he was arguably at the peak of his vocal powers. He later explained that he felt he'd never be able to get that high again, so he decided to go all out on this album. Indeed, by his next album, The Bridge, his voice was noticeably deeper.
Non-Appearing Title: "Summer Highland Falls," "Goodnight Saigon," "Scenes From An Italian Restaurant," "Travelin' Prayer." "Famous Last Words" is close, as the line is "These are the last words I have to say" (which was true, as it was the last song on his last studio album that had lyrics.)
Not So Different: "Leningrad", where he details his friendship between himself and a Russian clown he met while touring the Soviet Union. (The song was written during the Cold War.)
Obsession Song: "All For Leyna". The narrator has a one night stand with the eponymous woman, and declares:
I don't wanna eat, I don't wanna sleep, I only want Leyna one more time.
Odd Couple: Joel and his former wife Christie Brinkley
Precision F-Strike: Billy swears quite a bit in interviews and concerts, but his songwriting is mostly clean. An exception is "Laura" from the album The Nylon Curtain, the only song in Joel's entire oeuvre to contain an F-bomb.
Real Life Writes the Plot of "Piano Man". He was supporting himself by playing in a piano bar while waiting out a bad record deal and thought no one would believe his story, so he wrote a song about it. Everyone in the song is based on a real person.
An Innocent Man, an upbeat and nostalgic album reflected Billy's bachelorhood and newfound romances with Christie Brinkley and Elle MacPherson. River Of Dreams reflected Billy and Christie's marital woes and eventual divorce, along with Billy's legal issues (his ex-brother-in-law, who managed Billy's finances, was found to have cheated him for millions of dollars).
Take That: Before he played a concert in St. Louis on the Stranger tour, Billy received a death threat from a Catholic group regarding the content of the song "Only The Good Die Young." He responded by playing it five times that night.
"Getting Closer" from The Bridge is one to his first manager Artie Ripp. "The Great Wall Of China" from River Of Dreams is one to Frank Weber, his ex-brother in law who replaced Ripp as his manager. Both were caught swindling Billy of his money at various times in his career.
Take That, Critics!: Early in his career, Billy had a habit of tearing up newspapers that had given him bad reviews during his live concerts.
Billy called out a critic who had been polite when they met, yet went on to bash the artist's work in his article, believing it would not actually be read by Joel. Billy still invited the critic to attend his show, yet suggested he wear a hockey mask for his own protection.
"It's Still Rock and Roll To Me" takes a jab at how music critics try to tell people who's worth listening to: "There's a new band in town, but you can't get the sound from a story in a magazine aimed at your average teen." Soon afterwards, a Rolling Stone poll voted it "the worst song about rock and roll ever."
Tempting Fate: In "Modern Woman", the protagonist asks, "And after 1986, what else could be new?" three years before the start of The Great Politics Mess-Up. Then Billy penned "We Didn't Start the Fire" which, by his own description, was pretty much a chronicle of the Cold War (and included the line, "What else do I have to say?", albeit not meant literally). The imminent political upheavals in 1989 made Billy want to hurry up and release Storm Front ASAP, for risk of History Marches On.
Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: A mild example, but when during his marriage with Christie Brinkley, he was somewhat self conscious about being married to a beautiful supermodel and wondered why she would be interested in someone like him.